July 30, 2015
An 8 Step Onboarding Process
One of the hardest thing in growing any community is not finding new volunteers (though this can be difficult), the hardest thing is encouraging those new volunteers through the initial process of contributing and continuing those contributions over time.
The Concept of Onboarding
This process of bringing in new volunteers and welcoming them into a community is labeled as onboarding. Onboarding is not a difficult concept and every single role in every single business undergoes some form of this process in the beginning. This is the process by which the new individual “learns the ropes”, understands the job description, identifies the work to be done, and determines a way to accomplish that work.
Many jobs have specific processes to accomplish this onboarding task and most companies outline them clearly in their manuals and job training programs (usually run by HR). Unfortunately while in corporate environments this is regularly seen as a necessary part of the process it is far too often neglected in open source communities and volunteer organizations.
I’ve seen this firsthand when communities encourage new volunteers to join, they beg for new helpers, and then they strand them. Oh, they don’t mean to strand them but they inevitably do. They leave them behind to fend for themselves. There’s many reasons for this and these organizations never mean to intentionally abandon their new volunteers but it happens; and it happens far too much.
Identifying A Process That Works
So if we can recognize there is a problem then we can formulate a solution! I propose the following 8 step onboarding process for community volunteers. This won’t be comprehensive and shouldn’t be applied blindly to every organization but I believe it gives a basic outline which can be used and adapted to meet many of the current problems found.
Step 1: Immediate Engagement
The very first step in the onboarding process is the easiest and the one step that most every organization understands and does fairly well. Every onboarding process must begin with finding new volunteers and immediately engaging them. Here’s the important thing to consider at this step: The organization must have someone responsible for reaching out, engaging, motivating, and encouraging new volunteers. Again many communities understand this importance and do this remarkably well and with determination. It’s easy to encourage people to join. It’s relatively easy to smile and cheer on an initial interest from a volunteer. For the sake of this article I will assume you are this person.
Step 2: Baby-Step Accomplishment
This second step is an important one. The same person (you) who initially engaged and encouraged the volunteer should provide them with a basic “task” or “responsibility” they must complete. When the volunteer has done this first step they need to be met with praise and recognition. The encouragement to get involved turns into praise for a job well done. Remember that no accomplishment is too small and nothing is too insignificant to turn into an opportunity to encourage and praise. You want to motivate and encourage continued engagement. Recognizing the time someone spends to accomplish a job is the perfect way to demonstrate this.
Step 3: Group Introduction
Once the volunteer has been engaged and has completed their very first minor accomplishment (and I do mean minor, this is something very easy to do!) the next step involves introducing them to a larger group of other individuals. You want to introduce them and make sure they feel welcomed by others. This is where community growth becomes a team-effort. Not only do you engage with the new contributor but you must also engage with existing team members and volunteers to ensure they are welcoming and friendly to the new person!
Step 4: Peer Connection
Of course you know that not everyone will make immediate friends with everyone else. Things like personalities, culture, regions, languages, and timezones all affect personal relationships. This makes some connections harder than others. Some relationships form naturally and immediately make lasting connections. Others just don’t. The important part is to identify one or two individuals in the group where a connection has been made and ensure they grow. You will need to connect directly with both the existing volunteers and the new volunteer. You are actively engaged in enabling and empowering these relationships.
Step 5: Second Accomplishment
The next step in this process of a successful onboarding means taking the time to observe and watch for the second accomplishment by your new volunteer. At this stage the peer connections you helped establish previously should be the primary points of contact within the group or team for the new volunteer and should take the lead in identifying tasks to be completed. They should also be the ones to encourage, support, and praise the new volunteer. Your job is not done however, you will need to watch and be ready to again recognize the work completed. You are a cheerleader and encourager.
Step 6: Engage Someone New
Here we have a turning point in the onboarding process. The new volunteer is no longer a new volunteer. At this point they are familiar with the organization, the team, the project, and the various other aspects of “how things work”. They have not yet become seasoned experts but they are highly knowledgeable. This is important, at this point they have a maximum potential impact for further growth. Think of it as the intersection between knowledge and passion. This intersection is the perfect time to have them begin engaging with new volunteers. They become actively involved with encouraging others to get involved. (The new volunteer is beginning to fulfill Step 1 above)
Step 7: Identify Opportunities
Our new volunteer is now officially considered no longer new. They are one of the key members of the team and serve in a variety of capacities. They now are available to work as a peer connection with new volunteers brought into the group. In addition, because of their tenure and involvement they are very aware of opportunities for growth within the project or community. They are active in identifying these, solving them, and delegating them. They provide these items to others who are currently at Step 5, their second accomplishment. (Remember: peer connections work to provide the tasks for that step).
Step 8: Advocate
We’ve reached the final stage of the onboarding process. I realize it feels long and exaggerated but this process is truly all part of what makes a community grow strong and for the future. This final step involves the volunteer engaging, motivating, and encouraging others. At this step the volunteer has been turned into…you. And thus the cycle completes itself and the community begins to scale.
Our goal in creating an onboarding process is to see the community flourish and grow. We all want to see viral growth and watch our volunteers thrive not only within the community but also personally. This 8 step plan for onboarding volunteers will give you the power to scale your community and increase your engagement with your contributors. Take this process, implement the specifics unique to your community and establish a system that will empower your volunteers! And of course I’d love to hear your stories of your journey!
September 3, 2014
Making Onboarding Easy
This article is applicable to both communities as well as business. That may seem rare but I think it’s more common than we first think. The term onboarding refers to the process by which a new employee is brought “up to speed” on the way a company conducts their business.
This onboarding is often unique to a particular company or community but even with the differences there are a few techniques which can be used everywhere to make the process easier. We use these same principles when hiring new developers at WebSpark. I’m not saying these should be applied everywhere or that it’s the perfect process but I’ve found it works pretty well and is incredibly easy to implement. Here is a 5 step onboarding plan for new team members .
You have to be friendly. The first thing to do is introduce people. Make the new guy/girl feel welcome. You don’t want to cause them to feel as if they are an outsider from the beginning. Immediate inclusion in the group is important. Let them see the atmosphere which should permeate your community and the culture which embodies your team.
Remember how you felt when you were joining a new group for the first time. Remember the things which made you feel most relaxed and most comfortable.
When you’re introducing someone new remember to start small. Don’t immediately throw them into a group chat with two dozen others who are all well-acquainted with each other already. There’s nothing like stepping into a chat and feeling like every sentence is an inside joke between friends and you’re not included.
Start small when introducing someone new. Grab a few team members and hop into a side conversation. Make the new team member feel comfortable and at ease within this smaller circle before introducing them into a group chat.
Make sure the newcomer is aware of the various communication channels used by your company. This is especially important when you’re working in a distributed or remote work environment. If you use a particular chat messenger (we use Slack), if you have a team project management system or other online tools which you use regularly as a team make sure your new team member is aware of them and knows how to use them.
In a community its important to know not only where the general community is talking but also where the different working groups and teams are communicating.
The next thing we do at WebSpark with a new employee is partner them with someone else. Usually this person is someone working on the same project they are working on. By partnering with someone they again feel as if they are part of a team and not left to work on their own. When just beginning on a new job it can be intimidating to feel as though you have no one you can speak with talk to or feel as if you are working side-by-side with on the tasks you have.
Communities are the same way. When a new volunteer joins a working group there should be a person assigned to partner with them. Give them an opportunity to ask questions and learn. Nothing encourages involvement better than the feeling of having a partner in work. You’re not alone. You’re not searching blindly for answers. You have a partner.
Beat a deadline
The last of the initial five step onboarding process is setting easily accomplished deadlines. The sense of accomplishment for seeing a task completed is invigorating and inspiring. Whether its relevant to a particular job or merely something needing to be done the feeling of having successfully navigated the process and finished a job successfully is important. It doesn’t matter if you’re in a community or in a company the process should be the same.
Communities have a great opportunity to encourage this confidence. There is always a list of things to be done and never enough time to do them all. New volunteers can be shown some of these items and with their partner work through them. They’ll feel great getting something done and the community will be strengthened.
The process of onboarding someone to the team is certainly more in-depth and at WebSpark involves a few more steps, there are of course legal and HR issues to be addressed and other things which must be handled with a new hire, but when we look at companies and communities these 5 onboarding tips are applicable to both.
Onboarding is a delicate and vitally important process which if not done correctly will lead to a high turnover rate and ultimately a low success rate among team members. I’ve learned quite a bit over the past decade and these five simple tricks have helped me a great deal both in community and company environments. Hopefully some of these will help you as well.